The city of Houston plans to make $5 million in grant funding available to arts organizations throughout the city starting in June in an ongoing effort to help artists recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Funding terms

The Houston City Council voted May 10 to approve an agreement between the city and the Mid-America Arts Alliance for the distribution of $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The funds will be distributed as grants to arts and cultural organizations in Houston in a score-based application process that will be fully managed by M-AAA. The application process will open in June, and funds are expected to be distributed to organizations in September. Allowable expenses will be limited to payroll, local artists fees and marketing.

How we got here

A coalition of Houston arts and cultural organizations—including all seven of the city's recognized cultural districts, the Miller Theatre Advisory Board, Arts Accountability Houston and Texans for the Arts, among others—formed following the pandemic to advocate for the use of ARPA funds to help the city's arts community recover. The coalition initially asked for $15 million, which District I Council Member Robert Gallegos noted at the May 10 meeting. However, several coalition representatives spoke during a May 9 public comment session urging council members to approve of the $5 million infusion.

Number to note

The nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $1.12 billion in annual economic activity in the Greater Houston region and $120 million in local and state revenue, according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 national economic impact study. The pandemic caused an estimated $1.65 billion in losses to the city's creative community along with 42,000 jobs. The Texas Comptroller's Office has singled out the travel and tourist industry as the hardest hit economically by the pandemic. Several council members who voted in favor of the agenda item noted how the arts sector was the first to shutter and the last to reopen during the pandemic.

What they're saying

"The infusion of $5 million to our economy is critical to making our Houston arts economy stronger," said Cynthia Alvarado, operations manager for the Midtown Management District, one of the city's seven cultural districts. "We continue to pour into the beauty that makes Houston, Houston and, more importantly, assist in equitable recovery."

What's next

The M-AAA will "conduct substantive outreach and virtual application workshops and technical assistance prior to application deadlines," according to language submitted with the agenda item. At the May 10 meeting, at-large Council Member Letitia Plummer said her office also planned to co-host a grant workshop that will be open to artists of all kinds across the city. Details on the workshops will be released at a later date.